Made in: Norway
Language: Norwegian
Director: Petter Næss
Starring: Per Christian Ellefsen, Sven Nordin, Jørgen Langhelle, Marit Pia Jacobsen, Alfons Jørgensen
Year: 2001

Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film (2002)

Synopsis: Having lived all his life with his overly protective mother, the forty-something title character is sent to live in a state mental institution after his mother dies.

In the caring but sheltered environment of the institution, he's required to share a room with Kjell Bjarne (Sven Nordin), a large, middle-aged dimwit virgin whose own dysfunctional upbringing left him just as socially retarded as Elling (Per Christian Ellefson).

Whereas our hero is extremely sensitive, anal, and meticulous, the imposing but harmless Kjell Bjarne is woman-obsessed, loud, and messy.

After being released from the institution, the unlikely duo are sent to Olso to meet their social worker, Frank Åsli (Jørgen Langhelle) who turns out to be an encouraging but tough motivator.

Placed in a temporary state-subsidized apartment, these two borderline crackpots must prove that they can live independently and eventually integrate into society...or else.

The Good: The strongest element of this foreign film is the acting. The two leads are amazingly authentic as a pair of deeply socially inept individuals who eventually become friends. Their irrational fears and habits are detailed, believable, and often hilarious. At times it's easy to forget that they're even actors.

Essentially a comedy with an "Odd Couple" premise, director Petter Næss takes this simple idea and brings it to greatness by churning out a brilliant character piece.

The film is quite deep and genuinely moving, as Elling and Kjell Bjarne discover their unique strengths and talents. And in some ways, they find that the very experiences which have impeded their social development turn out to be advantages when it comes to helping others and forging friendships with "normal" people.

Filmed on location in a section of Oslo's west side known as Majorstuen, the diners, streets, and shops (which, as I understand, are all actual places), create a realistic, intimate feel that adds unique flavor to the film.

The Bad: During some parts, the portrayal of these two dysfunctional characters was almost too realistic. Some of their quirks, although believable, were a little uncomfortable to watch. Seeing that this is just a film, showing us only enough to get the point across would have been effective enough.

Who would like this movie: Although it's a straightforward story with themes that are accessible to a broad audience, I'd recommend this foreign film to those who appreciate simplicity and depth over large-scale, "light" entertainment.

This is a psychological comedy that focuses heavily on its few but vivid characters, where most of the substance (and laughs) come from the protagonists' internal thoughts and motivations rather than from their actions and surroundings.

Nonetheless, this is a feel-good, uplifting film best viewed if you're in a contemplative mood. A curiosity with Scandinavian languages (mainly Norwegian, of course) would be helpful too.

(3 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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